Synopsis: Around the world, more than a million people die by suicide each year. Yet many of us know very little about a tragedy that may strike our own loved ones – and much of what we think we know is wrong. This clear and powerful book dismantles myth after myth to bring compassionate and accurate understanding of a massive international killer.
Drawing on a fascinating array of clinical cases, media reports, literary works, and scientific studies, Thomas Joiner demolishes both moralistic and psychotherapeutic cliches. He shows that suicide is not easy, cowardly, vengeful, or selfish. It is not a manifestation of “suppressed rage” or a side effect of medication. Threats of suicide, far from being idle, are often followed by serious attempts. People who are prevented once from killing themselves will not necessarily try again.
The risk for suicide, Joiner argues, is partly genetic and is influenced by often agonizing mental disorders. Vulnerability to suicide may be anticipated and treated. Most important, suicide can be prevented.
An eminent expert whose own father’s death by suicide changed his life, Joiner is relentless in his pursuit of the truth about suicide and deeply sympathetic to such tragic waste of life and the pain it causes those left behind.
My Review: I know I have alluded a bit to recent tragic events in my life, and followed those allusions up closely by the desire to read this book. It occurred to me, in hindsight, that my assertions may make it seem as though I’m of questionable mental state these days, so after much deliberation, I decided to talk about the full circumstances in my current life and my reading of this book.
A question I have often asked myself of late is: at what point does my own side in a tragedy supersede that of other peoples? When do I take ownership of my own grief, rather than looking out for the interest and feelings of others?
The roundabout answer is: that I have to do what is best for myself in this situation, just as I did in the original situation this particular topic is in reference to. And take into account the wishes of the person directly central to the entire mess. Thus, this review will be very much intermixed with my own personal experiences, along with my thoughts about the book.
On May 3, 2010, my ex-boyfriend took his own life. Although we had broken up in November 2008, we had been together for ten years, and unfortunately, the two time-frames do not reconcile at all. My reluctance to discuss the topic stems from the knowledge that there are many people who were much more directly affected by this loss than I was – friends and family who saw him on a daily basis. I hadn’t seen him since December 2008, and my most recent contact prior to this had been in September of 2009, via email. And as longer term readers have seen, I’ve undergone a lot of life changes in the meantime.
To say that I am in recovery would be an understatement. On a personal level, I have never experienced grief like this before. For the first time in my life, I’ve encountered a situation that I cannot figure out how to simply move past, or deal with on my own terms. This is something that affects me on a daily basis, and I don’t know when, or if, that will ever end.
I think, because of how I feel every day since I received my letter, I had kind of hoped this book would provide some kind of solution for me, and sadly, it does not. I realize that is not exactly the purpose of this book, and many of the themes discussed in it unfortunately do not pertain to my personal situation. For example, the author mentions that a suicide note is actually pretty rare among people who decide to follow through with this horrible act. My situation is not like that, and because it is already available, you can see the video my Ex made very specifically for this situation here and here.
As I mentioned above, I received a letter from my Ex, in the form of a comment on this blog, in fact. I see that letter every single day. I haven’t approved the comment, because as the owner of this forum, I get to control what is seen, and I have no intention of publishing the actual letter I received. But that doesn’t mean I’ve deleted it. Does this mean I’m torturing myself every day? I don’t have the answer to that question.
I don’t claim to have a large readership here, and for the first time, I truly am sorry about that fact. Because I wish I could get out the message of how I feel. So if you do read this, and you are in any way contemplating suicide, I urge you to talk to someone who cares about you.
Or seek professional help, there are methods listed at the American Society of Suicidology website.
If nothing else, please feel free to contact me directly, my contact information can be found here.
You will never be able to understand the impact your death will have on your loved ones, and as someone who suffers from that impact every single day, I can assure you that as much as you may think your current life ruins theirs, your death will have an even deeper affect. Just think about my particular situation…I had no contact whatsoever from this person in eight months. And this has changed my life.
As for the book, I wish *this* were the kind of reading required in schools. Suicide has such a stigma associated with it, and the fact is that if it didn’t, lives would be saved. People would be helped.
For example, do you know how hard it is to find support groups for the aftermath of suicide? In my own area, there is one group that meets more than once a month. I don’t live in a small metropolis, I live in Denver, and within reasonable driving distance, a support group meets at most twice a month.
Furthermore, I think it’s a travesty that as a society, we do not do more to try and help people before it gets to be too late. We should all be watching out for each other, paying attention to behaviors, trying to prevent situations that would be preventable if we were just looking out for one another.
Take substance abuse rehabilitation: you don’t see groups out there saying “What *IF* you have a problem? Come here”. There are plenty of AA groups, or other groups, that meet after you need the help. I wish so very much that there was more attention focused on people before they need the help, not after.
I also look at this particular situation in relation to my own mental health. I would never say that I have considered myself to be healthy, something I briefly touch on in my review of The Bridge, where someone films people jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge over the course of a year; and a topic the author discusses repeatedly over the course of this book. In fact, in looking over my review of that particular movie, it seems so naive in retrospect. If only I knew then what I know and feel now.
Originally, I planned on posting a review of each individual myth about suicide dispelled by this book, but I also feel like this review is already long enough. The myths the author confronts are:
- Suicide’s an easy escape, one that cowards use: This section chronicles (among other things) a particular suicide I’ve known about since it happened, in 2007, in which a man died by a guillotine. I remember this news article, it was estimated that it took at least a year to construct the machine. What if someone had actually found it and simply done something, or confronted the constructor? That particular question haunts me, personally, in my situation.
- Suicide is an act of anger, aggression, or revenge: I will admit that I felt my Ex was capable of committing suicide, even before I left the relationship. I thought, up until reading my letter, that I would be blamed as part of the reason. Given my personal role in this particular suicide, I think if any of these themes would have been a part in his death, I would have been the one to blame. Since I was explicitly not, in his letter, I can personally discount this particular myth.
- Suicide is selfish, a way to show excessive self-love: My Ex himself said he felt his actions were selfish. And from an outside perspective, I would say they absolutely are. But he also says repeatedly that he does not want to be a burden, in his letter and the videos I linked to above. He, and everyone else who commits suicide, does so with the idea that it will be better for the people in their lives if they were gone. This is patently false, both in my logic and personal experience. But from their side, this is a selfless act, because they feel they are taking everyone else into consideration. Again, this is complete and utter bullshit.
From a personal perspective – if my Ex had not committed suicide, my life would have continued as it had before. He would not be involved in it in any capacity, would not have been a burden to me at all. And that is what I wanted. His death has effectively put him directly in my life for the foreseeable future. What would have been non-existent to me (in the form of his life) is now a burden (in the form of his death). I will fully admit that my situation is probably unique, but that doesn’t make my personal feelings any less valid.
- Suicide is a form of self-mastery: I have nothing to offer on this particular myth. I was, as mentioned, largely uninvolved in the life of my Ex for the last year and a half before his death. I have no idea how much control he felt over his own life at the time of his death.
- Most people who die by suicide don’t make future plans: Again, I don’t know what his personal plans were, but I know for certain that my Ex was supposed to leave for an international business trip the week after his death. He also left detailed instructions about what should be done with his possessions after his death. Plans? Maybe not. I was more of the planner in that particular relationship. But a designated life after the day of his death definitely existed.
- People often die by suicide “on a whim”: I absolutely, one hundred percent, disagree with this idea. I don’t think for a second that my Ex decided to commit suicide the day it occurred. He himself said, in his video and letter, that he made the decision several days before it actually happened. I personally told him that, given my mental state, I could not be around him and our relationship could not continue, a year and a half before the actual event. I knew, however much I didn’t do anything about it, that he was headed down this path. The timing was indeed surprising, but the event was in no way an eventual surprise to me. Sometimes, you just know. But that doesn’t make it any easier. The author even lists a quote from the son of journalist Hunter S. Thompson:
- I’ve known for many, many years that this is how Hunter would go. It was just a question of when. This was a big surprise and I didn’t expect it to be now, but the means was exactly as we expected.
- You can tell who will die by suicide from their appearance: Although, as mentioned, I hadn’t seen my Ex in a year and a half, my guess is he looked no different on the day of his death than he did in the days I knew him. After his death, several people expressed that he seemed different, and I will argue that even in that case, it was a long shot. People close to him will say he looked and acted the same as he always did. For my Ex, depressive and yes, suicidal appearance, was a daily thing. Or, suicidal for him. I could probably even tell you what he was wearing, based on the wardrobe in his video and what he had through our time together, though I will spare y’all those details.
What I mean to say by this is – he dressed the same every day. People are habitual. Some will absolutely change their appearance before their death, such as cutting their hair or dressing nicely for the day of their death. But to say that because he made the decision on a Thursday, and went to work Friday looking differently, well, that would be a lie. He worked in a business casualish environment. And his personality was what it was. For someone who worked with him that previous week to say “he said something funny”…that was likely someone who simply didn’t know him for long.
- You’d have to be out of your mind to die by suicide: If you watched the video, you’ll see that my Ex himself said he was fine at the time of his death. While I will agree that many people who die from suicide seem out of their mind or fucked up, not all of them are. Many are people you would have thought were normal, similar to the serial killer next door. This is a problem that can hit no matter the perceived mental state of the person involved. And the author will argue that people who follow through with suicide have essentially desensitized themselves towards suicidal behavior, or at the very least, personal violence. I would agree with that in my case – he was the one who wanted to watch The Bridge, and other similar, violent acts. While I cannot bare witness to personal violence from him, I wouldn’t say he was immune to it. He would definitely have said he was desensitized.
- Suicide terrorists and others subvert the need to belong: I would argue that the reaching out by my Ex, in itself, was a need to belong. I think, despite his current situation, he was lonely. And this adds to my particular guilt in the situation. What if I had responded differently in my email in September? Would things be different now? If I had been able to suppress my personal needs, would a life have been saved? What if he had told me, a week before his death, that he was going to kill himself? I know for a fact that he made a similar statement approximately a month before he died, albeit to someone else. His belonging in my life could have been the thing to save him…I will never know the answers to these particular questions.
The author approaches this topic with the personal sympathy and expertise needed in this situation. Again, while I don’t think the book helped me in particular, I think it could be a very helpful read for those experiencing a suicide in their social circle, whether that be family, friend, or mere acquaintance.
And if you are in the Denver area and in need of a more regular meeting situation, please do let me know, as I am among you.
On the whole, I think this book is worth the read, and again, I do think this and similar books should be *required* reading. It’s never too early to broach the subject of suicide, and once we as a society accept that it’s never going to go away, maybe we can save some lives, or at the very least help the survivors through their difficult times.
Read this book if: I have no qualms about recommending this book to everyone. I’m of the opinion that this should be required reading material for anyone of middle school or higher. And as the book itself details, even younger children (age eight) are susceptible to this problem. The earlier we identify these issues, the more lives we save. Even if you don’t care about saving potentially anonymous lives, you could maybe save one among your own, and that in itself is worth it.